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Everyone knows that the James Webb Space Telescope is a ground-breaking infrared space telescope that’s helping us better understand the cosmos. The JWST’s discerning infrared eyes are deepening our understanding of everything from exoplanets to primitive galaxies to the birth of stars.

But it’s not the first ground-breaking infrared space telescope we’ve launched. There was IRAS, then ISO, then the Spitzer Space Telescope. The Spitzer is the JWST’s most recent infrared predecessor, and the JWST is observing one of the same targets that the Spitzer did, taking note of some puzzling changes.

In 2008, the Spitzer observed SZ Chamaeleontis (SZ Cha), a T-Tauri star that’s only a few million years old and still growing. It’s typical of young stars and is surrounded by a protoplanetary disk, a thick disk of rotating gas and dust from which planets form. Our own Sun was similar to this five billion years ago before the Solar System took shape.

When the Spitzer observed SZ Cha, it noticed a specific type of the chemical element neon in the disk, called Neon iii. Neon can only ionize under extreme energy, so its presence is evidence of the star’s extreme UV (EUV) light. It’s also scarce in disks being bombarded by X-rays, indicating that SZ Cha wasn’t very energetic in X-ray emissions.

Young stars can be very energetic, and that can power the photoevaporation of their protoplanetary disks. This puts planets in a race against time. They must form before the disk becomes too diffuse. Though Spitzer’s observations of Neon III indicate powerful stellar radiation, it’s EUV radiation. EUV radiation is powerful enough to ionize stubborn neon, but it’s not as effective at photoevaporating the disk surrounding SZ Cha.

But now, the JWST has observed SZ Cha and found something quite different. It found Neon iii, but it also found Neon ii. More importantly, the two exist in a ratio that’s at a typical level. What does it mean? “One way to distinguish between EUV and X-ray creation of neon fine-structure emission is by measuring the [Ne iii]-to-[Ne ii] line flux ratio,” the authors explain.

Contrasting data from NASA's James Webb and Spitzer space telescopes show a change in the disk surrounding the star SZ Chamaeleontis (SZ Cha) in just 15 years. In 2008, Spitzer's detection of significant neon III made SZ Cha an outlier among similar young protoplanetary disks. However, when Webb followed up on SZ Cha in 2023, the ratio of neon II to III was within typical levels. What happened? Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Ralf Crawford (STScI)
Contrasting data from NASA’s James Webb and Spitzer space telescopes show a change in the disk surrounding the star SZ Chamaeleontis (SZ Cha) in just 15 years. In 2008, Spitzer’s detection of significant neon III made SZ Cha an outlier among similar young protoplanetary disks. However, when Webb followed up on SZ Cha in 2023, the ratio of neon II to III was within typical levels. What happened? Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Ralf Crawford (STScI)

This means that the young star is radiating different energy. “This points to a switch from EUV-dominated to X-ray-dominated photoevaporation of the disk,” the authors point out.

“Once again, the universe is showing us that none of its methods are as simple as we might like to make them.”

Catherine Espaillat, Boston University.

Instead of EUV, the star is bombarding its protoplanetary disk with X-rays. The problem is that X-rays are much more efficient at blowing away the disk, and this means that the clock is ticking for any planets forming in the disk.

These results are in a new paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The paper is “JWST Detects Neon Line Variability in a Protoplanetary Disk.” The lead author is Catherine Espaillat of Boston University.

“Planets are essentially in a race against time to form up in the disk before it evaporates,” explained Thanawuth Thanathibodee of Boston
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How to Get a Permit to Backpack the Teton Crest Trail

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By
Michael Lanza

For
backpackers, the Teton Crest Trail really delivers it all: beautiful lakes,
creeks, and waterfalls, high passes with sweeping vistas, endless meadows of
vibrant wildflowers, a good chance of seeing wildlife like elk and moose, some
of the best campsites you will ever pitch a tent in, and mind-boggling scenery
just about every step of the way. And it’s a relatively beginner-friendly trip
of 40 miles or less, which most people can hike in four to five days.

No wonder it’s so enormously popular—and there’s so much competition for backcountry permits.

In this story, I will offer tips on how to maximize your chances of getting a permit to backpack the Teton Crest Trail, sharing expertise I’ve acquired from more than 20 trips in the Tetons and several on the Teton Crest Trail over more than three decades, including the 10 years I spent as Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog.

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped 1 jpg
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Lake Solitude, North Fork Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Lake Solitude in the North Fork of Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton National Park. Click photo for my e-guide “The Complete Guide to Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail.”
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Tet19-095-Lake-Solitude-Teton-Crest-Trail-North-Fork-Cascade-Canyon-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Tet19-095-Lake-Solitude-Teton-Crest-Trail-North-Fork-Cascade-Canyon-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Tet19-095-Lake-Solitude-Teton-Crest-Trail-North-Fork-Cascade-Canyon-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”Lake Solitude, North Fork Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton National Park.” class=”wp-image-36414″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Tet19-095-Lake-Solitude-Teton-Crest-Trail-North-Fork-Cascade-Canyon-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg?resize=1024%2C683&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Tet19-095-Lake-Solitude-Teton-Crest-Trail-North-Fork-Cascade-Canyon-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg?resize=300%2C200&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Tet19-095-Lake-Solitude-Teton-Crest-Trail-North-Fork-Cascade-Canyon-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg?resize=768%2C512&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Tet19-095-Lake-Solitude-Teton-Crest-Trail-North-Fork-Cascade-Canyon-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg?resize=1080%2C720&ssl=1 1080w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Tet19-095-Lake-Solitude-Teton-Crest-Trail-North-Fork-Cascade-Canyon-Grand-Teton-N.P..jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Lake Solitude in the North Fork of Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton National Park. Click photo for my e-guide “The Complete Guide to Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail.”

See my story from my most-recent trip on it, “A Wonderful Obsession: Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail,” which requires a paid subscription to The Big Outside to read in full, including basic information on planning a TCT backpacking trip. For much more information and expert tips on planning this trip, get my top-selling e-guide “The Complete Guide to Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park.”

I’ve also helped many readers plan a backpacking trip in the Tetons and elsewhere, answering all of their questions and customizing an itinerary ideal for them. See my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how
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Eris Could be Slushier Than Pluto

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In 2005, astronomer Mike Brown and his colleagues Chad Trujillo and David Rabinowitz announced the discovery of a previously unknown planetoid in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune’s orbit. The team named this object Eris after the Greek personification of strife and discord, which was assigned by the IAU a year later. Along with Haumea and Makemake, which they similarly observed in 2004 and 2005 (respectively), this object led to the “Great Planet Debate,” which continues to this day. Meanwhile, astronomers have continued to study the Trans-Neptunian region to learn more about these objects.

While subsequent observations have allowed astronomers to get a better idea of Eris’ size and mass, there are many unresolved questions about the structure of this “dwarf planet” and how it compares to Pluto. In a recent study, Mike Brown and University of California Santa Cruz professor Francis Nimmo presented a series of models based on new mass estimates for Eris’ moon Dysnomia. According to their results, Eris is likely differentiated into a convecting icy shell and rocky core, which sets it apart from Pluto’s conductive shell.

Their paper, “The internal structure of Eris inferred from its spin and orbit evolution,” recently appeared in the journal Science Advances. The research began while Nimmo was visiting Professor Brown at Caltech and realized that some of his previously-unpublished data could help reveal information about the properties of Eris. At present, we know that Eris is about the same size and mass as Pluto and has a highly eccentric orbit around our Sun, ranging from 38.271 AU at perihelion to 97.457 AU at aphelion. This is almost twice as eccentric as Pluto’s orbit and roughly 50% farther from the Sun.

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Comparison between the eight largest TNOs with Earth (all to scale). Credit: NASA/Lexicon

For several months, Brown and Nimmo worked on models of Eris that incorporated two key pieces of information. The first had to do with Eris’ only known satellite, Dysnomia, and how the two bodies always face the same way toward each other. “That happens because the big planet gets spun down by the tides that the little moon raises on it,” said Nimmo in a recent UCSC press release. “The bigger the moon is, the faster the planet spins down. And so as soon as you know that, then you can actually start to do real calculations.”

Astronomers can use the spin and orbital characteristics of planets and their moons to infer certain properties, like their internal structures. But until recently, scientists did not have estimates on Dysnomia’s size, mass, and density. Luckily, Brown and his colleague Bryan J. Butler – a researcher at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) – recently conducted observations of Dysnomia and Eris (and Orcus and its satellite Vanth) using the Atacama Large Millimeter-submillimeter Array (ALMA). Based on their findings, published in The Planetary Science Journal, Dysnomia has a diameter of about 615 km (382 mi) and Dysnomia and Eris have a mass ratio of 0.0085.

This upper mass limit provided the second crucial piece of information, which concerned Eris’ internal structure. The main result of Brown and Nimmo’s model (but did not expect) is that Eris is surprisingly dissipative, a concept in thermodynamics where a system operates out of equilibrium. From this, they determined that Eris has a rocky core surrounded by a layer of ice and a crust that is likely convecting. “The rock contains radioactive elements, and those produce heat,” Nimmo said. “And then that heat has to get out somehow. So as the heat escapes, it drives this slow churning in the ice.” 

This sets it apart from Pluto, which has a conducting shell, as revealed by the New Horizon mission. Brown and Nimmo hope that more exact measurements of Dysnomia’s mass will be available in the near future, as well as additional data about the shape of Eris. Because of its distance, Eris appears as a single pixel of light, while Dysnomia is visible as a faint speck next to it (see below). Therefore, astronomers must monitor Eris as it passes in front of background stars to reconstruct its shape. This is similar to the Transit Method astronomers use to detect exoplanets and constrain their sizes.

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Hubble is Offline Because of a Problem with one of its Gyros

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The rich flow of scientific data—and stunning images—that comes from the Hubble Space Telescope is being interrupted by gyro problems. One of the telescope’s three remaining gyros gave faulty readings, and the Hubble automatically entered safe mode. In safe mode, science operations are suspended.

Without gyros, the Hubble can’t orient itself properly. Gyros measure the telescope’s turn rate and help the telescope know where it’s pointed. They’re part of the system that keeps the space telescope pointed in the right direction. There’s no indication of any problems with Hubble’s instruments, like its Wide-Field Camera 3 or its Advanced Camera for Surveys.

This all began on November 19th when Hubble went into safe mode. Engineers recovered the telescope, and regular science operations resumed the following day. However, the unstable gyro caused problems again, and the space telescope suspended science operations again on the 21st. It was recovered again, then went back into safe mode on November 23rd. That’s where things stand now.

NASA is working to resume science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope after it entered safe mode Nov. 23 due to an ongoing gyroscope issue. Hubble’s instruments are stable, and the telescope is in good health: https://t.co/QOdJJ9WjYh pic.twitter.com/URRHYV3Le8

— Hubble (@NASAHubble) November 29, 2023

The Hubble was launched with six original gyros, but they failed fairly rapidly. During its last shuttle servicing mission in 2009, the Hubble received six new gyros. Three of them were the older type that failed fairly quickly, and three were new ones. The three older ones from 2009 have failed, and Hubble has three remaining gyros, and all of them have a more modern design. It can operate with a single functioning gyro, though it’s less efficient.

This image shows astronaut Mike Massimino during Service Mission 4 to the Hubble in 2009. Astronaut Mike Good is in the background. During SM-4, Hubble received new gyroscopes, as well as two new scientific instruments – the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). Image Credit: NASA
This image shows astronaut Mike Massimino during Service Mission 4 to the Hubble in 2009. Astronaut Mike Good is in the background. During SM-4, Hubble received new gyroscopes, as well as two new scientific instruments – the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). Image Credit: NASA

Each gyro is a small cylinder filled with fluid. Inside the fluid, an internal float spins thousands of times per second. The original six gyros and three of the 2009 replacements contained bromine in the fluid. The bromine ate away at the gyros, causing their eventual demise.

One of the Hubble's gyros. Older ones had bromine in their interior fluid, which ate away at the gyros, causing their demise. Image Credit: NASA
One of the Hubble’s gyros. Older ones had bromine in their interior fluid, which ate away at the gyros, causing their demise. Image Credit: NASA

This isn’t the first time failing gyros have caused a shutdown in Hubble’s science operations. The preceding incident happened in 2018. At that time, Ken Sembach was the Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI.) In an interview, he expressed some frustration, telling Business Insider, “We’ve had some issues with this gyro in the past, and we’ve got some possible leads on the current problem. But the thing that’s been clear on Hubble is that these gyros all have a mind of their own. I don’t think anybody really knows what’s going on with it right now.”

The gyros are just part of the system that keeps Hubble pointed where astronomers want it pointed. The system also includes reaction wheels and fine guidance sensors
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